PostAWeek2011 – what it meant for me

There are times when I think that attempting to blog in a country with minimal and erratic internet speed and service is just a recipe for frustration. I started this blog 3 years ago when I came to Liberia with the high ambition of having an avenue to share my impressions and images with my friends and anyone who might be interested. For the first 2 years I struggled! Either I was too busy or the internet was too slow to upload anything. So from its Sept 2008 birth, at the pathetic rate of about one post a month, I kept my blog alive but barely!

Then came the PostAWeek challenge and a faster ISP in Monrovia (I use LibTelCo). I remembered my original goal! My imagination was fired up again! There were possibilities and they could be achieved or so I believed!

Therefore I proudly declare that in 2011 I added 55 posts to my blog! I achieved my goal. Okay, I admit the December frenzy of (10) posts helped me get there, but I really wasn’t that far off my target even without that blitz. That makes an average of one post a week – a few ranks improved from pathetic!!

As for the readership, oddly enough the number of visits to the site in 2011 was double the total visits for the previous two years! Go figure! The more active you are, the more visits your site receives! The more your post, the more readers!  Thanks to the challenge, my blog is alive and healthy and getting closer to becoming the type of site I imagined from the beginning.

It is good to have an end of year review and recognise the milestones and achievements. I feel encouraged by what I have accomplished because I admit that it has not been easy especially under the ISP conditions I live with. But it is worth it. I have enjoyed reading other people’s blogs and have even started to subscribe to a few myself. I find myself drawn increasingly into the WordPress world.

So what is my blogging plan for 2012? More of the same, but with a few changes. I might remove some of the pages that I enthusiastically added in order to write about my safaris. With my constant time-crisis, I simply cannot work on them. I will also try to do the weekly photography challenge, just for fun. But mainly I will continue to share small snap-shots of life in Liberia as I experience it and I’ll write about my holidays when they happen. For as long as the internet gods bless me with sufficient internet speed, I will continue!  

Having said that, dear subscribers whose inboxes have suffered from my recent blogging blitz, I will now return to a more intermittent posting schedule because I am going on holidays! If you are lucky I won’t think or write about Liberia until sometime in February!! Happy New Year, happy holidays, and thanks for reading! 

 

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Real Man helps his Wife in the Home

This is my favourite social awareness sign in Liberia! I pointed it out to the three Liberian men I was travelling with while in Voinjama recently. Two of them who drive past the sign daily, claimed to have never seen it! The billboard is part of the programme to stop Gender Based Violence and is a fabulous effort but I’m not sure if any Real Man is paying heed to the message!!

Real Man Helps His wife in the Home – I certainly hope so 🙂

Shy smiles

I don’t usually get a chance to get up close with people when I have my camera with me, so when I do I so wish I could capture more from the moment – but that’s my constant photographic cry. I have found that children are often uncertain how to react to the camera but after they see their image they usually put on a more dramatic performance.

When we were waiting for the heli the other day a small group of boys kept trying to get my attention from the other side of the airfield so I went to speak with them and “flash them” – take some photos. The first shot is of them from the distance – note the aggressive stance in the small boy on the left! Oh man, there’s trouble coming in that one! The second shot is the formal pose while the last shot is where we ended up just 4 shots later…all smiles and thumbs-up…well almost all!

Meanwhile this boy in Greenville hugged his blanket and tried to cover his face – the parents insisted I take the photo – but then after seeing the image he wanted another “flash” and this time a shy smile emerged in his eyes.

There was however no shyness from these girls who seemed to know instinctively how to synchronise their pose. I hope I get more people photo opportunities in 2012.

Historic Harper, Maryland County

The city of Harper, Maryland County, is an historic place. No, I am not referring to Maryland County, USA, but the Maryland that is tucked away in Liberia’s South-East. Of all the places outside of Monrovia that I have visited, Harper stands out as the most established and substantial in the sense of having paved roads, solid buildings, and even a lighthouse. In its heyday Harper must have really been something! Now, unfortunately most of its buildings are in ruins and the city is a shadow of its former self. It makes for great photographic opportunities though!!

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The city was the first part of the coastline which was settled and eventually came to be called Liberia. The Episcopal Church was first established in a town nearby, and the church in the slideshow was built in 1851. The County was originally independent with its own administration and port, but eventually it agreed to merge in Liberia in order to have access to better services and particularly access to Liberian military protection! Many of the buildings are abandoned and occupied by squatters, but they are reminiscent of the architecture of southern America (or so it seems to me). The history, port, nearby beaches and natural beauty would make this little town a viable and interesting destination if only it were not so remote and far from the attention of most tourists! If you happen to be in Liberia though, it is a great place to visit for a few days 🙂

On the road again… Travelling in Liberia

It is not easy to move around in Liberia. In the last month I visited 7 counties and survived because most of the trip was undertaken on the UNMIL helicopter. These photos are taken from the moving vehicle during our 6 hour road trip between  Zwedru and Sannequellie. 

The roads are paved and in reasonably good condition to the main towns in the two directions heading out of Monrovia, and then the bitumen ends and the red-brown dirt or mud begins. The UN military components try to keep the main supply routes maintained and open so for the most part they are okay but with patches of corregations and potholes. When you go off of the main routes onto the feeder roads and further from the County headquarters into the Districts, towns and villages, the road conditions quickly deteriorate. During the rainy season, many Districts are inaccessible.

If the photos above don’t convince you – try these – taken by colleagues in the field (Thank God I didn’t have to drive through these ‘critical spots’)

People tell me that I should enjoy the opportunity to travel by road to see the countryside and the different villages. I completely disagree. I’ve seen enough of the countryside from the ground and the air to know that it is consistently green (trees, rubber plantations, forests, and a rare patch of agriculture here and there), red-brown (dirt or mud roads, clay or mud structures) and grey-blue sky (heavy grey rain clouds, or haze and dust when the winds blows down from the Sahara). The scenery may change according to the season, the weather on the day, and the road conditions, but its always a variation of the same green, red-brown and grey-blue. I’m sorry but I’ll take a 2 hour heli ride over a 10 hour road journey any day!!

There’s no happier sight at the end of a field trip than to see these Ukrainian birds land! Oh and of course I have to acknowledge that as an expat I have the priviledge of a decent 4×4 vehicle or a heli to move me around, but that is unattainable for most Liberians.

Christmas in Liberia

“My Christmas is on you!” is the greeting I heard most often during the Season in Liberia! At first I was confused. What has your Christmas got to do with me? ‘People, we have to take care of our own Christmases’, I thought. And after four Christmas seasons spent as an expat in Liberia I think I eventually ‘got it’ in the end.

Christmas is a very important celebration.

The majority of Liberians claim to be Christians (about 80%). Church attendance is a priority and after the mass or Sunday service people spill out onto the roads in their Sunday finery, greeting friends, blessing each other, and searching for a ride home. Christmas Day is spent with the family and people go all out to enjoy a nice meal and share some small gifts for the children.

Family time is very important and after sharing the special meal families will go to the beach or somewhere special to visit and pass the time together. Interestingly, Christmas is not always celebrated on the 25th December. If, like this year (2011), the 25th happens to fall on a Sunday then Liberians will celebrate Christmas on the public holiday.

Christmas shopping is stressful all over the world!

The RedLight market area in Monrovia may not be Woolworths or Marks and Spencer, but the stress for the shopper on the hunt for a bargain is the same the world round, and more so at Christmas! (The photos tell the story!)

Now you cannot compare the Christmas consumerism of a typical Australian with that of Liberians because the two are quite different contexts. However speaking only from my observations, many Liberians seem to face more pressure than most Aussies would experience during this time of the year. In Liberia, where 85% of the population do not have regular jobs or salaries, the urgency to hustle and beg is an incredible burden for many. I can’t really imagine how it feels.

“My Christmas is on you!”

So here’s where the saying “My Christmas is on you” starts to make sense. The security guards say it, the office cleaning ladies, the parking attendant at the shops, government interlocutors, and even my colleagues at work! Everyone looks to their connections, no matter how thin, to ask for money.

Of course, expats are a natural target as everyone assumes we have money to give away to anyone who asks. But the Liberians with a stable job and salary are constantly chased by the unemployed family members, long-lost cousin ten times removed, and neighbours who they barely meet throughout the year. Imagine how much pressure that is!

While the hustlers might accept a negative response from an expat, they do not let up with their Liberian brothers and sisters. They will hustle until the family member gives them some money, and they will shame them if the amount they give is not enough. (I’m not sure that this makes any sense until you have lived in Liberia.)

 

How to respond 

At first when people greeted me with “My Christmas is on you” I used to smile and say “Bless you”. I felt that if I gave to one person I would need to give to everyone. And so the well reasoned mantra, ‘I can’t help everyone, so I won’t help anyone’ justified my inaction on too many occasions. (Thankfully, not on all occasions)

Once I understood the Season greeting would come every December, I thought about who was important to me and what they might need. I planned ahead so that for some people I could give more than a ‘bless you’.

The spirit of Christmas in Liberia

I eventually  realised that the consumerism and pressure people faced at Christmas time in Liberia came from the same source as everywhere Christmas is celebrated – a desire to celebrate a special occasion and have time with family.

That is the same heart and motivation many people have across the world. It is the spirit of Christmas!

So when Liberians greeted me with ‘My Christmas is on you’ they were actually voicing in a unique way, their desire to celebrate and their need for help. I would rather hear that greeting than “Hey big mama! You got money for me!” Yes, I did hear that statement in Liberia too, but never at Christmas time!

I hope that my comments as an expat have captured some of the reality of the challenges that come with celebrating Christmas in Liberia. And I hope also that when someone greets you saying, ‘My Christmas is on you’, you can feel the heart and need behind the expression.

I wish I had caught on to that heartbeat much sooner!

MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone and richest blessings for the year to come!

 

A small goal and a small reward!

The end of the year is almost here so I think I’ll set a small goal to finish 2011 with a flurry of blogging bliss! I started this blog page back in Nov 2008 and yet I have only posted 81 posts  – yep, i’ve gone to print only 81 times in those 40 months. That’s a pretty sad effort really but its mainly been due to my time limitations and internet deprivation. Now that I have an ISP that allows access to wordpress in proper formatting in the luxury of my own house – I will try to attain 100 posts before I catch my scheduled plane out of here. That is possible if I post everyday and twice on Sundays 🙂 (well almost!)

They say that having a reward is a useful incentive when setting goals and milestones. This is definitely not on the menu in any restaurant anywhere in Monrovia, Liberia, and quite possibly not in West Africa!! It will be my reward upon arrival at my destination. 🙂 I don’t know what connexion there is between blogging and pasties, but it won’t stop me enjoying the challenge and the reward.

A look around Greenville, Liberia

Yesterday I posted some photos of the Greenville Port, so now here are a few photos of the town and the fish market. In my opinion, if you have to live anywhere outside of Monrovia, try to opt for a coastal area. At least then you can supplement your diet with fish and there’s usually a nice beach to visit and enjoy somewhere nearby. Otherwise, this country is mainly made up of green trees, red dirt, and a sprinkle of villages.

This is Greenville, Sinoe County!

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I enjoy the fish market, and yes we did enjoy nice grilled fish! I also love the way they name their boats. Maybe it is because the fishermen cannot always swim and the sea can be so rough, they often quote scripture as if to try to bless their boats and bring God’s protection!